Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘time management’

About Time

The Secret to Work-Life Balance is Trusting that it will all be okay in the endWhen I was little, I used to listen to the older and wiser people in my life.
(And I read a lot.)

I picked up a common thread.

“I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time.”
“I wish I had spent more time with my family.”
“I wish I had spent more time with my kids.”
“I wish I had spent more time on what really matters.”

I vowed to learn from those older, wiser folk. I promised myself I would use my time wisely.
Focus on things that really mattered. Be wise myself.

As I got older, I thought that’s what I was doing.

Yet the more I did, the less satisfied I felt.

I was tired and irritable, and the important things seemed to be flashing past me before I had a moment to grab hold of them.

I imagined that having children would give me such a slap of perspective that I’d automatically get my priorities right. Especially since I was already focused on doing so.

But when I had kids, all I could think of was earning enough to give them everything they need. And I don’t mean horse riding lessons and ski trips every holiday.

I mean food.
Clothes.
A place to stay.
Education.

You know – important stuff.

Here’s what I discovered: important stuff clashes with important stuff. Spending time with my family clashes with supporting my family.

(And just between you and me, I have no idea how to fix that.)

I started to think that it would be terribly useful to meet one of those older, wiser people who, with the benefit of wisdom and experience, had discovered the true value of spending time with family (especially kids), and was making that discovery a practical reality in his or her life.

I really felt that there’d be a whole lot of wisdom and learning to glean from such a person.

Recently, I was lucky enough to find just such a person. He’s a colleague and a mentor. His business trajectory so far very closely mirrors mine. His kids are similar relative ages to mine (just twenty-odd years older, of course).

His life took some turns I hope mine won’t, such as divorce. But otherwise, I could see that I could learn a lot from this guy.

The best part (for me) is the fact that he has a daughter not much younger than my youngest.  So even though he has adult children (and even a grandchild), he also has the opportunity to live out the wisdom he learned in his younger years.

Whenever we’d speak, he’d remind me that time spent with family – especially children – is by far the most valuable investment of your time.

We both agree on this point.

But as we worked together, I started to notice a troubling trend: he has even less time available for his kids than I do. Seriously. And that’s saying something.

So really, I don’t have an answer. Maybe when I am old and wise, I will have a clearer idea of how these things work.

But I’m starting to think the best thing – the only thing – to do is to make peace with it.

I’m not saying “go with the flow” (although often that IS good advice). I’m not saying don’t make improvements if they’re there to be made.

It’s just that, sometimes, I’ll be working flat-out, and my kids will pick that moment – in the middle of that deadline – to have a meltdown. There go two hours of work. Two hours of sleep. Two hours of keeping a promise to a client … But they’re two precious hours that I’ve given my child, and that I don’t regret. Sleep deprivation and all.

Sometimes it goes the other way: the kids are doing something amazingly fun and I’d love to join them, but work beckons and deadlines must – and can – be met. Then the deadlines win.

In the end, I hope it all balances out. I really hope the clients are patient and understanding, and happy enough with my work that they don’t find someone with fewer time commitments. I hope my children are healthy and balanced enough to know that sometimes putting them first meant putting their physical needs (clothes, food, shelter) ahead of their desire to spend time with me.

I hope they all forgive me.

I hope it all turns out okay.

And I choose to trust that it will.

Managing time, or being managed by its lack?

I choose happinessYesterday I started my journey to happiness with the five things in my life I wish were different right now. Two of the things I wish for involve my girls: I wish I had more time with them, and I wish I could give them more input.

Belatedly, last night, it occurred to me that I can achieve both: I can give them the training they need (to the best of my limited ability), and in that way have more time with them AND help them start to achieve some of their goals.

I think that pursuing art and dance with Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood will also make me happy. We’ve also found that playing board games is highly educational, interactive, time-smart and happiness-inducing. Not to mention being even easier than dance or art lessons.

So that’s THREE wishes with one metaphorical stone (it’s so shiny :))

PS: Yesterday I made my To Do list and actually ticked off SEVEN items on it! Way to go, productivity.

Action steps:

  • Look up art and ballet tutorial on YouTube
  • Carve out half an hour STARTING TODAY to do at least one of these things with the girls.
  • Tick off another three things on today’s To Do list.

Verses:

How to fit it all in

Almost every day, I’m asked the same question: how do you get it all done? To be clear: I’m no Wonder Woman. Far from it. All I am is a mom trying to have it all – and get it all into a single day. On average, I work between 16 and a half and 18 hours a day. This includes housework and school but even so, there’s not much time for “me time”. Now, I’m not advocating an eighteen-hour day. Far from it! I believe proper planning and focus can allow any of us to achieve our most important goals.

The thing is, some things are important. Investing in my relationship with God is important. Reading to my children is important. Exercise is important. Work is important. The question is, how on earth can anyone fit it all in? 

We all need a planny plan

We all need a planny plan

For me, I find anything I aim to do is far more achievable if I start out with the premise that the thing I intend to do can be done. Because, you see, if it can be done by anyone, it stands to reason that it can be done by me. All it takes is a plan. A planny plan. Here’s mine:

Get your priorities straight

First of all, decide what is important. Be specific. Choose the five things you can’t NOT do in a day. These are your priorities. There are a hundred things I’d like to get done each day. Only a handful of these is non-negotiable, however. For me, that handful includes, in no particular order:

  • Housework and meal preparation
  • Home education
  • Time with God
  • Billable work
  • Research, management and non-billable work

I’ love to include exercise, arts and crafts, and long walks with my kids in my list. I wish I could find time for charity and home visits, and time to invest in making my Sunday School classroom appealing. But I have to be realistic. My work happens every single day of the week, and if I don’t prioritise, I’ll end up out of control and in chaos. Which does happen from time to time!

Get up early

It’s only a cliché because the truth of it has stood the test of the ages. The Bible speaks of the value of an early start. Idioms and sayings from around the world explain that

“early to bed and early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Take time to recharge

Take time to recharge

The reason we all know these sayings is because they ring with truth. Little beats the productivity I find myself able to tap into when I’m up early. Before the rest of the family is up, I get my thoughts in order. I get myself ready for the day. I spend time with God. And even if I get nothing billable done, I get a little of that precious me time that seems so elusive in our frenetic lives. It is so important to get that time to recharge, and if we don’t make a concerted, intentional effort to achieve that, we are robbing ourselves of a significant source of energy and well-being.

Get up before the hustle and bustle of the day begins, and sort out your lists. List the three things you absolutely must achieve today for today to be labelled a success. More than that is a bonus, less than that is a disaster. Three important things should be a manageable goal for any day, so be sure you know, before the day starts, what your three things are. I don’t mean choosing three of your priorities. I mean, within the confines of those priorities, what three items simply cannot go undone today? This simple act will give your day focus, your work purpose, and yourself energy.

Multi-task

Conflicting studies discuss the pros and cons of multi-tasking. Theories such as Critical Chain explain the negative impact multi-tasking can have on productivity, pointing out that if we focus on one task at a time, not only do we finish all the tasks at least as quickly as we would have had we attempted to do them all at once, we also perform better in each task individually, and report lower levels of stress generally.

That’s fair enough, and in fact my on research supports this view – for the most part. However, there are pockets of “dead time” in our days that can be better utilised. For instance, I have a mild back condition as a result of exceptionally low muscle tone and very poor posture. If I don’t do at least 200 intensive abdominal crunches each and every day, I am soon in so much agony, I can barely walk. Even sitting becomes painful and, needless to say, my productivity plummets. However, fitting that amount of exercise into an already full 18 hour day can be a challenge. My solution? Multi-task. When I wash my hair in the morning, while I wait for the conditioner to do its thing, I do my crunches. (The added benefit here is that the bath water provides my back with the support it needs!) I do calf raises and lunges while I fry the eggs for breakfast. I do tricep dips on the kitchen counter while I make supper. Once you get used to it (and make it a priority), it’s really not that hard to do.

We do the Bible Time and History segments of school around the breakfast table in the morning. I incorporate English language studies into History by printing out the day’s text and creating a treasure hunt for verbs and adjectives and predicates and those other faithful friends of the fanatical word nerd (guilty!). Art happens organically and continually with my creative brood. Geography is the very natural spin-off of a rich history curriculum, with us looking everything up on the globe and the girls spending hours poring over the atlas. At dinner, we’ll watch great movies to do with our literature, or play games that secretly stimulate learning – and friendly family competition.

Work is work, but if I work in a central space I am always available to my children, my clients and my staff. It can be distracting, but it is also necessary. After all, this is the life I chose, and the only way I’ll succeed at living my dream is to make it all fit together, rather than squashing things into ill-formed boxes.

Zen and the art of home maintenance

Housework is my least favourite task, and I know for a fact that I’m not alone here. A sinkful of dishes has the effect of a dementor on my soul, sucking every happiness from my being and leaving me cold and terrified. I find that there are two solutions to my sense of joyless dread, namely The Sneak Attack approach, and the wilful application of Zen.

The Sneak Attack approach

This is my own personal legacy that I am bequeathing to the world. Seriously, it’s genius. If other people are doing this, they sure aren’t talking about it. And they should, because it works. It’s brilliant. It goes like this: when I face a task I loathe, (or just don’t prefer), I tell myself not to do it. I reason that I don’t need to do it, and shouldn’t have to do it, since I already do so much. I let myself off the hook for that task, and take all the stress, guilt and urgency out of it. I turn around. Then, when my mind isn’t looking, I sneak in and do it quickly before I realise what’s going on. I’ve effectively removed the sense of burden from the task, and made it almost naughty to go ahead and do it. It’s artificially-applied fun, and it works! I’ve been doing this for years, but only recently discovered that this is actually a scientifically documented productivity tool called Structured Procrastination. Try it – I dare you!

Now, sometimes the task at hand takes longer than it takes my brain to catch on to my sneaky trick. Then I’m in trouble, because the overwhelming drudgery of the task at hand seeps into my consciousness and saps my will to live. Or at least my will to keep doing what I’m doing. This is where the next part of the approach kicks in:

The Wilful Application of Zen

I have learned to sublimate the mundane , to elevate the banal to an art form. I honestly believe this is one of the most useful and effective uses of one’s time. Because, let’s face it, the dishes must be done. The laundry must be folded. And if not by you, then by whom? You’re it. So it’s important to find ways to grow and bloom in these minor trials, rather than giving housework the power to make us unhappy. Take back that power! Housework most certainly does not deserve that kind of a hold over your life. Instead, recognise that time alone at the sink is time alone. It’s that “me time” you’re hankering after. And you get the privilege of changing things for the better – making them clean and shiny and ready for use – without having them complain about your interference.

In fact, the simple acts of folding laundry – instilling order in chaos – and washing dishes – creating hygiene and health where before there were only germs and disease – are very therapeutic. It’s necessary work. It can be fulfilling work. It’s a great opportunity to get your thoughts in order, and the necessity of the situation creates a virtual bubble around you. No one can demand frivolous things from you while you’re busy with these important things. You learn, grow and rest in the mundane busyness. Enjoy.

Take breaks – productively

And finally, take breaks and get rest. But use these wisely. A break is not the time to check texts and catch up on emails. Those long walks I said I wanted? Now’s the time to take one. Step away from the computer. Get outside. Read a page of a well-written book. Grab a cup of bulletproof coffee or some refreshing tea. Spend time talking to your kids – or drawing with them! Build a fort. Go for a run. Wash the dog. Even doing filing can be good, because it is so soothing to instil order in your chaos.

And make sure you get the sleep you need. If worry is keeping you awake at night, supplement with Vitamin D, Zinc, and CalMag. Get regular, mild exercise. And talk to the One who promises to take all your worries, because He cares for you.

These are my secrets for a successful and effective day. What are yours? I’d love to hear how you fit everything into your day. And if this was helpful to you, let me know! I really hope I can make your life a little easier, and a little happier.

With love,

Vanessa

How to balance working from home and home educating your children

I wish there was a simple answer to this question. Our typical day starts early (around 5AM): I do a quick round of laundry and dishes, make breakfast, and launch straight into school. After school I check emails and return calls, then make lunch. Work follows, flat out until it’s time to make supper. After supper it’s time for dishes and bed time stories, then back to work.

Bed time is usually between 23:00 and 02:00.

For me, there are two equally important keys to making this work. The first is prioritisation. Decide what’s important, and focus on that. But realise and accept that what’s important today (or this morning, or right this moment), may not be the same as what’s important tomorrow, what mattered tomorrow, or what is important in your life generally. It helps, too, to have a very clear idea of what is important generally, so that when you have to make a touch choice, it’ll be the right choice.

The other important key is acceptance and realistic expectations. Many years ago I had this romantic notion that eight hours each day, five days each week, would always be enough for getting work done. Add to that three hours of school and half an hour of exercise, and you still have plenty of time for sleep and being a domestic goddess. That’s not how life works. School often takes five hours or more. Or no time at all, since there isn’t any time for school and that’s that. Exercise is usually a distant memory and sleep sits on the bookshelf between Fairy Tales and Rumpelstiltskin. Being a domestic goddess is many miles away from divine most of the time, and every moment of every day of every week seems dedicated to putting out fires and desperately trying to keep promises that seemed so very realistic when they were made. The thing is that when you accept that what is, is; that this is just the way things are, it becomes so much easier to face each challenge rather than always looking for the road to “The-Way-Things-Should-Be Land”.

It’s not easy, and it’s not for the faint hearted. But it is what I wanted and that, too, makes it easier to bear. With the end game in sight, and taking things one step at a time, each day is better than the last.

Some days are magic.

Col. 3:15 "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful."

Col. 3:15 “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”

Today is one of those days. Everything is in order. (Well, bar a couple of clutter pockets. And the Garage – looming large). My brain is in order. I have a much clearer idea of what to do with the kids next week. My man is wonderful: thoughtful, funny, hardworking, off to bring home bacon. He’s been gone for half an hour and I miss him already!

My daughters are delightful. All morning they’ve been sweet and helpful, playing together, quietly reading stories to each other and themselves, tidying up, helping out. I am truly blessed today. I have all that I need and so much more.

Yesterday I was researching Charlotte Mason’s methods and came across a post about how she would organise her day. It really inspired me and I am going to aim to do something similar. Here’s my version: I’m going to divide my days into realistic blocks of time, namely, Before Breakfast (BB), After Breakfast Before Snack (ABBS), After Snack Before Lunch (ASBL), After Lunch Before Snack (ALBS), After Snack Before Supper (ASBS), and After Supper Before Bed (ASBB). Then each block of time will have one or two major goals to be achieved or priorities to be taken care of.

I still need to list the priorities that I’ll fit into each week, but for now they’ll cover things like gardening with the girls; Sunday School and school prep; time with my man; play time with the girls. In fact, that’ll just be my list. Oh – and “blessing my house” in some way each week. (I really like this concept: each week, what can I do to make my home a better, more welcoming place? One project each week – be it large or small – will make a big difference).

Obviously mornings will be school time. Around supper time we’ll (hopefully) start having family walks. Before breakfast is workout time – both spiritual and physical. And then the rest of the day is work, and even there I’ll pick the two or three most important work items and focus on doing those to the best of my ability.

I started thinking about this last night (well, at 2:45 this morning!) before I went to bed, and I really think I’m on the right track. I feel so calm and even excited about this new, organised, productive life I’m gooing to lead. Wish me luck!

Lesson #8: Redeeming the Time.

As always, when our Teacher speaks, He speaks from everywhere. It’s as if there’s a giant cosmic megaphone He uses to blast His message through the universe to our waiting ears. And He’s bought all the billboard real estate from all the advertising moguls, and populated them all with His message. You know the one? That one that seems tailor-made just for you?

As I have been pondering the state of my current life: broke, busy, burnt-out and blustery, I’ve been trying to see how it can be my fault. This has been, for the most part, an honest search. What am I doing wrong in the physical and/or spiritual realms that would lead to this impasse? Is it a trial designed to strengthen me? A punishment for unrecognised or unconfessed sin? The natural result of foolish decisions? Is this simply what adult life is like? And if so, why don’t “they” warn you before you get here?

After a good deal of contemplation, I think it may be a combination of all of the above, plus an heretofore uncredited player: Poor Time Management. Procrastination, my folks called it.

As we work towards our long term goal of full time ministry, it is reasonable that our faith should be tried and proved. (James 1:12 – “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”).

Some of our previous decisions and actions have been foolish and even sinful, depending on your interpretation of the book of Proverbs. Certainly, without decisive corrective action, no improvement could be hoped for, and we surely can’t keep making those mistakes and hope for blessings. (Prov. 9:8b – “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee“).

Whatever we may have been led to believe about adulthood, no one actually said it would be any less than hard work, punctuated by the blissful joys faith, family and friends provide.

But the real player on tonight’s stage, and the subject of this week’s lesson, is time management. I realise that this may come as a shock to many of you (ahem) but I am easily distracted and a pretty poor manager of my time. Between news, newsletters, emails, recipes, great ideas and hilarious cats, not to mention adorable children and entertaining siblings and staff, most of my day is accounted for. I try to spend time with both Papa Bear and the Teacher Himself each day, and of course I need to maintain my household and feed my family. And by that time it’s after 10PM and I’m composing blog posts instead of working – or sleeping! (Prov. 6:6-11).

I am trying to be more orderly, more disciplined. I am trying to live a healthier life that includes more sleep, more exercise, more quality time with my children outside of school. I am trying to keep my promises to my clients, take on less work, and leave the paying of bills to my Provider. But rather than achieve any of these noble goals, I am like the apostle Paul (in no way but this): “the things I want to do, I don’t do. Instead, I find myself doing the things I don’t want to do and shouldn’t do!”. (Prov. 7:19 – “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”).

So anyway, between my quiet time, our evening devotions our daily school Bible studies, Church messages, personal conviction, and what I’ve been reading incidentally online and off, the message for this week is so very clear: make better use of your time! I was reminded of this once again this week when I stumbled across the BetweenFearandLove blog.

The two posts that struck me most right now were this one: what did you do with your extra time? and this one: The frustrating task of self-motivation.  In particular, the blog author says,

“There are things we have to do in life, things we need to do in life, and things we want to do with our lives. When the things we want to do take on the role of things we have to do and need to do we make them a priority. If we don’t make the things we want in life a priority, then we will never look back and see them done.”

This is so true. I sometimes think, “If only I had started XX or YY six months ago, this would be done by now!” If only I would start it when I think that thought! As Solomon says in the book of Proverbs,

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.

Prov. 6:10 – 11

It’s time for me to get serious about managing my time, and I’d appreciate all the prayers I can get!

Mathemagicians

Some days are better than others, and today is one of those days. We’ve steadily plodded along each day since visiting Oikos, relaxedly and consistently completing assignments in a set amount of time or leaving them until the next day. With the new approach of NOT drawing out work until it’s done, but doing what can be done in a set amount of time then moving on, we’re all learning better time management, Yours Truly included. A huge bonus is that we’re getting through the “school” part of the day in a lot less time, making it a lot more fun for all of us. But an unexpected bonus is that the girls are finishing their work faster. They feel a sense of achievement and are really enjoying home education more than ever, which is great considering the fact that they’re actually fitting in more than when we were sticking at it until we finished a thing.

I feel a lot more relaxed about home education and work in general, since I have more time for both, and my time management has improved (and continues to do so). Having staff helps, too.

Today we reaped a new fruit of our new approach: a love of Maths in DD#1. (On a side note, I think I need better nicknames for the girls. On a blog I read recently, the author called her daughters Sunshine and Sweetness, which I loved. Suggestions welcome.) Anyhoo, we have always battled with the maths side of “school”, with groans and tummy aches abounding. I started DD#1 on the Level 2 maths from MEP Maths, since I wanted to make sure the ground work was thoroughly laid. It has proven to be a wise move as there really were a lot of fundamentals missing. We’ve taken it slowly, not doing Maths every day, and not always completing a sheet in one sitting. Since we started taking our new, efficient approach, however, we have found that we do in fact finish a sheet at a sitting, and if we don’t, we don’t stress. Today we were working on sums, representing the answers in different ways. Eg: 40 + 50 = 90 | 90 = 50 + 40 etc. Suddenly a light went on behind DD#1’s eyes and she said, “so the = means that, for instance, 4+5 IS THE SAME AS 9?” – she gets it! Equals means IS. So DD#2 = cute. DD#1 = tomboy. Etc. She was so thrilled and raced through the rest of her worksheet – without mistakes! Clever girl. She even tackled a pretty tough question with aplomb, and without help, figuring out the rule before I did (and I had the answer sheet).

The lack of passion for Maths until today has been the combined result of a perceived lack of talent, and the fact that it takes long to do. Now that it is quick and she knows she’s good at it, she loves it again, just like she did as a little girl. I’m thrilled! And I feel that we’ve made a very significant breakthrough, one of the ones on my list of god reasons to home educate. Check.

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